Graduates to Watch

Deixi Wu struggled with English when she enrolled at Thornton Academy two years ago, but now she is graduating with highest honors and plans to attend Southern Maine Community College in the fall. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Deixi “Daisy” Wu is graduating from high school for a second time.

Deixi Wu pageant photo

Deixi Wu won the title of Miss Eastern Maine 2019 in a scholarship pageant. Photo courtesy of Deixi Wu

Wu was born in Venezuela to Chinese parents who immigrated there in the 1990s. They operated a successful market and restaurant in Ojeda City, but the political and economic collapse of the South American country forced them to flee in 2018.

“It was really dangerous to stay there, especially for immigrants,” Wu said.

After she graduated from high school in Venezuela, Wu and her family moved to Saco, where her grandparents had lived for many years. She and her older brother, Deibi, enrolled at Thornton Academy to prepare for higher education in the United States.

“I was very hopeless when I got here,” Wu said. “I knew it was a new start and many doors would be opened for me, but I had left behind so much, all of my friends, everything.”

As her family settled in, Wu’s father got a job as a chef at a local restaurant. Her mother assumed the care of her aging parents. Wu’s first year at Thornton was a struggle despite the school’s experience with international students. Interacting with other teens was difficult. She was shy, and though she was fluent in Spanish and Cantonese, her English was limited.

“It was very overwhelming for me, though I felt pretty welcomed,” she said. “My English wasn’t good and I didn’t know how education was here. Everything changed my senior year. I made so many friends. This year has been the best, even with the pandemic.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Wu has been exposed to racial tensions in Maine that reminded her of difficult times in Venezuela. In the parking lot of a local supermarket, a man in passing car yelled a racial slur at her.

“In Venezuela, it was mostly making fun of Asians,” Wu said. “Here, it was very rough.”

Through a friend, Wu learned about academic scholarship pageants, so she entered and won the title of Miss Eastern Maine 2019. She enjoyed the experience, she said, and she hopes her example as an accomplished, outgoing person will help dispel prejudices against Asians.

Wu, 19, is graduating from Thornton with highest honors and plans to attend Southern Maine Community College in the fall, along with her brother. She intends to transfer to the University of Southern Maine and get a degree in education so she can become a language teacher.

She sees language education as a unifying force based on her experience as a volunteer translator working with Chinese immigrants here and at the American Embassy in Venezuela, and as a volunteer Spanish teacher working with younger students in Venezuela.

“I am passionate about language learning and teaching others,” she said.

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